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What It's Really Like Living in Sint Maarten

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Sparkling blue beaches, cobblestone streets, secluded coves, and vibrant nightlife...the Caribbean Island Sint Maarten is a beautiful place to be!

If you're looking for a job in paradise, read this article about Teaching Dutch in Sint Maarten.

However, it’s important to know that being on vacation on an island is very different from living there. If you have ever considered moving to paradise, the Caribbean Island Sint Maarten should be on your list!

Still, the reality of living on an island can be very different than expected. Sometimes living on an island is not all about piña coladas, white beaches and sunsets. 

Well, to be fair, most of the time it is… but let me be honest and talk about the great and the less ideal parts of living on a small island.

Living on a small island like SXM will give you the opportunity to meet a lot of people. The familiar feeling you will experience, even if you don’t have family abroad with you, is very important to feel like you are at home. There is a great community of expats who will guide and help you to get along with the island. 

A young woman standing on rocks over the ocean smiling at the camera in Sint Maarten
Hard to get over these views

On the other side: prepare yourself for feeling homesick or secluded at times. Island life also means a lot of people come and go. You’ll have to say goodbye to many people you were starting to care about. You’ll feel lonely and stuck on a remote island. And a word of caution: It’s hard to stay anonymous here because there will always be someone who has seen you. Forget about keeping secrets because gossip goes around fast.

While this may not be ideal for some, it can also be seen as something positive: you can stay on your best behavior with those you meet, and make awesome friends that go beyond the superficial.

If you're planning to move solo, you'll learn so much about yourself. It'll definitely be worth it!

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Taking care of the basics

Once you have arrived, you’ll have to find a place to stay. A place to call home. You can easily find Facebook groups to rent apartments and houses.

After Hurricane Irma occurred back in 2017, rent has been high so you have to be prepared to spend almost half of your salary in rent. Also, be sure that your apartment is hurricane-proof. The easiest way to save some money is to share a house with another expat. I’m very lucky I found a nice roommate to share a very spacious and well-located house with.

Eating a fresh watermelon slice with the view of the pool and green hills in the backdrop on Sint Maarten island
Fresh fruit, refreshing pool and green hills...what more could I ask for?

On the Dutch side of the island, there’s almost no access to the variety of stores available in the normal world. Things have to be shipped here so you have to wait, and some things aren’t available. I used to love to read books but there’s only one bookstore. As well, I would go shopping often, but my closet hasn’t been filled for months. I used to love to decorate my house with nice stuff, but everything here is way overpriced.

Thus, bring the items you know you’ll need or want before you come, and learn to live like a minimalist! 

Surprisingly, there are many supermarkets and also a lot of American brands like McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, to name a few.

You will quickly learn to go to certain places on certain days for certain things. Like knowing yoghurt is way cheaper, and bread is way tastier on the French side of the island. SXM has plenty of places to have breakfast, lunch or dinner.

From feet-in-the-sand beach bars to haute cuisine, there’s a kitchen for everyone! A service charge of 15% is usually included – if not, don’t forget to pay it on top of the bill! 

Also, be aware that during low season, numerous establishments will be closed. If you like to go out at night, you’ll like to spend time at Simpson Bay, an area with lots of bars and clubs all offering a ladies night on a different day of the week. Make sure you drive home safe though! Don’t put too much trust in local taxis.

A woman sitting on a towel in the sand laughing with her friends at the beach in Sint Maarten
Enjoying the beach and even the sand!

An important lesson for you if you plan to live on a tropical island: never take the beach for granted!

Even though I’m living so close to the ocean, I often think: hey, I haven’t gone to the beach in a while. Caribbean beaches leave me speechless by the view of the ocean displaying its stunning shades of blue. You’ll see sunsets that will take your breath away, and there is nothing comparable to the landscape and the contrast of the warm and blue waters. 

Curious about life on another Caribbean island? Check out our guide about living abroad in Aruba to see which is the better fit for you!

Beaches are filled with sand though and if you’re not used to having sand everywhere, like literally everywhere, it may be annoying or even an issue. Lately, the lens of my camera broke because sand came in. Because of the lack of stores, it’s impossible to fix it at this time. 

Life on the island

If you have always lived in a big city like me you might feel like you will miss out on anything entertainment-related, like going to coffee shops, big stores, cultural events, museums, etc. In the beginning you’ll be really excited to visit every spot but after a few months you’ll miss the diversity and often go to the same places. 

Of course, it depends on what you like because the activities you can do on the water are incredible. There are gorgeous spots for snorkelling, diving, sailing, paddle boarding, jet skiing and so on. But don’t forget, these activities can get pretty expensive.

I absolutely love the fact I don’t have to doubt about what clothes I’m going to wear when I wake up. The weather is usually amazing and sunny. I don’t miss covering myself in layers or standing on a train platform with my teeth chattering. But 365 days of summer also means you will be drenched in sweat the moment you walk from the house to your car. These temperatures will make you exhausted and lazy. Having AC is a must if you want to survive!

A group of friends splattered in paint having a fun day on Sint Maarten island
Having a fun day with fellow expats

Personally, there are two things I really hate: mosquitos and traffic. You’ll be attacked by the mosquitos all year round. The little bastards are faster and smaller than the European ones. They can also carry some serious diseases such as dengue, chikungunya or zika. So bring on the mosquito repellent or look for some natural remedies to ward them off!

As for traffic, it can be a true disaster on SXM and parking is a nightmare (especially in Philipsburg and Marigot). People tend to back out into the road a lot, so you have to watch out for that. Also, you’ll be passed by some cars and motorcycles going at ridiculous speeds. 

There is only one main road so even a small accident could block the road for hours. You might need to take a local bus, but don’t rely on them. They often don’t come and they stop driving at 9pm. This means that it will be important to be patient and to have a backup plan in case something like this happens.

Enjoy paradise like I have!

Living on an island, you’ll get used to a simpler life with fewer distractions of the modern world. You’ll learn to live your life slower, and things will be more relaxing and less stressful. Media will be needed to track hurricanes as life depends on that but there’s no need to get overwhelmed by constant propaganda.

Overall, if you are looking for a life like this and want to be close to nature, you will totally love the island life!

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